Posted by: Charissa Heckard | April 3, 2012

Feeling the heat? Arizona’s lakes, Tempe Town Lake

Visiting some of Arizona’s many lakes during the warmer parts of the year can be an enjoyable activity. Water bodies such as Lake Pleasant, Canyon Lake, Saguaro Lake, Tempe Town Lake, Lake Mary, and many more are visited by people every year. Maps show  lakes throughout the state. Visitors enjoy activities such as fishing, boating, jet skiing and swimming at these lakes. Which ones are safe to swim in? Which ones can you eat the fish you catch?

Tempe Town Lake, Tempe, Ariz.

Not all lakes allow swimming in Arizona. The Kiabab National Forrest, in Northern Arizona, doesn’t allow swimming in any of their lakes because they serve as a natural water source. Coconino Forrest allows swimming in all their lakes even though they’re a bit murky. Fishing in lakes in Arizona is allowed with a fishing license. There is a consumption advisory of fish caught in certain areas because they contain high levels of chemicals such as mercury and methylmercury. We also learned in a previous post on bottled water, that hormone chemicals are also found in the fish in Arizona.

One lake I had a lot of questions about, has a rich history and is located smack dab in the middle of Maricopa County.Tempe Town Lake, photographed on the right, is a sectioned off portion of the Salt River that used to flow through The Valley. It was a project created in 1966 to control floods and create a series of green belts and bike paths. The construction cost totaled $45,532,196, and it opened in Nov. 1999.  The lake holds 977 million gallons of water stocked with fish to catch. Specific kinds of boats are permitted in the lake, however, swimming is not permitted.

National swimming contests are held here so it is important to keep the water healthy by not allowing public swimming. The lake has to have a pH level of 9.0 or lower to allow swimming. Levels higher could cause skin irritation. In 2006, Garin Groff wrote that over 11 water treatments helped bring the pH level down that year, but cost near $10,000 each time. On Tempe’s government website, Assistant City Manager, Jeff Kulaga states that swimming competitions will only be held if the pH water levels are correct.

Since Tempe Town Lake is man-made, one must wonder the consequences of urbanization of aquatic ecosystems. A study aimed to answer this question.The study done by scientists and researchers at ASU isn’t readily available through BioOne, but an article in ScienceDaily provides an inside look to what lead author John Roach and his colleges found. “By starving streams of their historic supply of this material, canals accidentally alter the way nutrients are cycled in stream ecosystems,” Roach said as quoted in the ScienceDaily article.

There are natural lakes throughout Arizona that allow swimming and do not require expensive water treatment maintenance. Physical upkeep on the lake also costs money. An example of failed structural maintenance was seen in July, 2010 when a rubber dam developed a tear, emptying the lake which upset Tempe residents and boaters.   There is information saying Tempe Town Lake was a sustainable project to build. Hardly any information I found focused on how the lake is progressively becoming more difficult to sustain. What lies in the future for Tempe Town Lake?

Photo:Robyn Sedell

Posted by: Charissa Heckard | February 7, 2012

Thoughts on Reclaimed Water

Parks in Flagstaff use Reclaimed Water

The term reclaimed water means that water has been used by humans, recycled and now can be used for non-drinking needs. It is delivered to parks, school fields, golf courses and homes. It cuts down on the use of drinking water to irrigate lawns or park areas when the same water can be reused over again.

Tucson has been using reclaimed water for over 27 years saying it is not filtered for drinking or bathing. It is strictly for non-drinking water uses. Tucson’s governmental website  says that children and pets should be okay around the reclaimed water, but if they get sick they should be seen by a doctor.

One could become sick from this water because of remaining sewage that wasn’t filtered out. If ingested, symptoms such as nausea, vomiting and  diarrhea could occur. They claim getting sick from the water isn’t common.

Something that confuses me is how they encourage the use of reclaimed water on crop plants. They also encourage its use in vineyards and fields. I don’t understand how companies can encourage the use of reclaimed water on food items humans will consume. If we are not supposed to ingest the water, what makes it okay to eat food that has been grown with reclaimed water.

Another issue I see is that when companies use reclaimed water, chemicals could potentially poison the ground water and get into our drinking water. What people fail to realize is that a lot of our water is all connected. Certain chemicals are not taken out of reclaimed water such as hormones, flame retardants, pesticides, medication and others.

A large controversy took place on the beautiful  San Fransisco Peaks in Flagstaff, Ariz. A project was planned in 2001 to purchase reclaimed waste water from the city of Flagstaff and use it to make snow in Snowbowl. This presents concerns because possible dangers to the ecosystem have not been tested thoroughly. We have already established the regulations in Flagstaff are faulty when it comes to screening chemicals.

Triclosan is one of the chemicals found in the reclaimed water that worries me. It is found in many household items, such as soaps. There have been studies proving it to be a hazardous chemical. Since 95 percent of items made with triclosan gets washed down the drain, of course it’s going to end up in our water systems.  In reclaimed water triclosan mimics estrogen like chemicals. If you haven’t caught on yet, many of the chemicals in water mimic estrogen hormones.

Despite environmentalist’s protest and concerns about the interaction between the water and surrounding ecosystems, the project moved forward and snow is being created with reclaimed water.

Correct regulations as well as implementation of regulations could lead to healthier reclaimed water. If cities adapt to the newest and latest technology reclaimed water could be an idea that benefits many people. An article in National Geographic talks about the possibility of reclaimed water being safe enough to drink with the proper technology. It’s fascinating to see the other side and see that there might be hope for reclaimed water.

Reclaimed water is a difficult and controversial subject because there are ongoing studies proving it to be good and bad. If you have further information, please share.

Posted by: Charissa Heckard | January 31, 2012

Bottled water: problems with the bottle, problems with the water

To avoid tap water, people reach for bottled water.  In places including Arizona, bottled water can, in some cases, be worse than tap water. Studies done by the National Resource Defense Council (NRDC)  found that bottled water is far less regulated by the FDA than tap water.

When water is put into plastic, the water interacts with the chemicals in the plastic bottles. One of the main chemical is called Bisphenol-A. It mimics estrogen like pharmaceutical chemicals such as birth control or hormone replacement medication.

Bottled water sold everywhere.

I have heard people say chemicals in the plastic only interact if the water becomes warm in the bottle. This is false. Water is carted throughout the United States in trucks, potentially allowing the water to heat up and react with the plastic chemicals. There are no regulations stating that bottles need to be cooled before water is put in them.

Chemicals are being released from the plastic and the water being used to fill the bottles have very little regulation, meaning they can carry larger amounts of chemicals and bacteria than tap water.

Privatized companies packaging and selling water within the same state are exempt from the FDA’s water testing standards. We are forced to believe when they say they have their own regulations. 75 percent of bottled water comes from springs and wells while the other 25 percent comes from municipal water systems. Bottled water brands such as Great Bear, Glacier Spring and Dasani are essentially purified, treated tap water that you pay more than a dollar per bottle.

Hormones found in tap water can also be found in bottled water because there are no laws forcing regulation and testing for certain chemicals. The NRDC found that 60-70 percent of bottled water are not held to the FDA’s regulations because they are packaged and sold in the same state. This puts the individual states in charge of testing the water, which not all do. Companies such as Arrowhead Mountain Spring Water, started bottling water inFlagstaff, Ariz. and people reacted because of the high levels of estrogen found in the water. Scientists have tested water sources and reported high levels of these hormones where the water is coming from.

So what?

These hormones have negative effects on humans and animals. Studies have shown the negative effects in fish living in areas with similar estrogen levels. The gender of the fish studied in Flagstaff is changing. Male fish have eggs growing in their scrotum while female fish are close to 100 percent female.

The fact that companies want to take this water full of chemicals that have these types of effects, fail to remove them, then bottle the water and sell it as a healthy alternative is unconscionable.

If you are interested in the politics and other health issues surrounding bottled water on a world wide scale I suggest you watch the documentary called Tapped. I enjoyed it because it is organized well for the public to better understand how all the problems are connected.

Posted by: Charissa Heckard | January 19, 2012

Tapped out: Tap water and its flaws

Life cannot exist without clean drinking water. The increasing populations is disrupting the natural purification of water. Humans now adopt the role to clean our drinking water. This is concerning because human error can occur or lack of knowledge to remove harmful chemicals. One issue people are concerned about is the tap water that comes out of their faucets at home.

In order for water to be considered safe, it needs to have low levels of harmful chemicals. Despite tap water being tested multiple times a day, harmful chemicals still get through.

  • Pharmaceutical chemicals
  • Non-iconic surfactants

Scientists claim technology is scarce to track these types of chemicals in tap water which is one of the reasons it isn’t more reported and tracked. I think that the technology is there, but the laws aren’t in place.

One particular chemical called non-ionic surfactants used to improve the power of detergents is not screened for tap water in Arizona.

It’s also important to understand “safe” water might not be safe for everyone. Certain people are more susceptible to water illnesses because of health issues that can lower immune systems.

I find it interesting that none of the Annual Drinking Water Quality Reports for Arizona are posted online. This makes it challenging for the everyday consumer to get actual facts about their drinking water. I’ll be reaching their offices soon.

This leaves us with a question: What is safe to drink?

People use at-home filters or drink bottled water, but how safe are those choices?

If you’re very interested in this topic of contamination of water I suggest you read a book called Silent Spring by Rachel Carson. This book covers many environmental issues including different angles of water pollution. The most important thing about this book is the time it was written. Carson predicted a lot of things would happen when she wrote the book in 1962. Many of her predictions have come true and many of her environmental concerns still exist today.